Valencia – top 5 picks

A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of days in Valencia, visiting my Uruguayan host sister. Besides seeing her again after 5 years, here’s what I thought were the five main highlights and must-do’s.

            1. Enjoy the green

I had no idea, but it turns out Valencia has a lot of green spots throughout the city, which is something that I really appreciate in a city. With the mellow lifestyle and warm weather, these parks are the perfect place to enjoy an ice cream, read a book in the shade or just catch up with friends.

Jardín del Turia is now a park, but used to be the river bed of the Turia river. You can imagine it’s a huge park, twisting and turning its way through the city.

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Another good one are the Jardins del Reial, which has lots of exotic plants and trees (this goes for Valencia in general, which is quite different and enjoyable if you are from the cold cold north, namely Belgium).

             2. Take a stroll through the historic city centre 

There is just so much amazing architecture to look at. From older buildings to new ones, all of the streets look glorious. Don’t forget to climb the Miguelete tower to enjoy the view from the top too! The 209 steps are worth it. Tip: don’t wear a dress, it can get quite windy up there. Unless you want the whole of Valencia to see your bum, then by all means do like I did.

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3. Buy some fresh produce at one of the many markets

Valencia is the place for foodies with its bustling markets spread across the city. From fresh fruit and veggies to refreshing juices, spices and different types of meats, cheese and fish, it’s all there for you to enjoy. Mercado de Colòn is a renovated old market, but it’s worth a peek. For more of a real market feel, check out Mercado Central: both the inside and outside are beautiful and you can pretty much find anything here. Since Valencia is known for its oranges, try a freshly squeezed orange juice, or buy the original spices to make your own paella.

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             4. Enjoy the climate and take things slow

Because Valencia can get quite hot in the summer, people live on a completely different daily time schedule. Wake up late, take a siesta in the afternoon, go out for dinner late and stay up till the sun sets over the beautiful city. Take things slow and easy.

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           5. Don’t skip the main attraction

Although it’s the one thing that I knew Valencia for, and it does sound like quite a tourist trap, the Océanographic and the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, are both definitely worth a visit, if not for the architecture alone. The pictures don’t lie, it’s a pretty photogenic space… Don’t just skip it!

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Hasta la próxima!

Besos

Silke

Vienna

A week ago, I left on a last-minute solo trip to Vienna. I decided to spend my few last free days doing something that I love, namely travelling. So, I booked a ticket and a hostel and a week later I was on my way. Here’s a play by play of what my trip was like.

First off, I arrived late in the evening at my hostel, the Wombats City Hostel. I believe it is one of the very, very few hostels in the city, which means you are bound to make friends there if you travel solo. There were lots of solo travellers there, which was nice. Overall, great hostel, would definitely recommend.

One other tip is to buy a 24 or 72 hour pass for the metro (the U-Bahn), an easy way to get around in Vienna. Or you can walk if you like that, which is very doable too.

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The first place I went to is pictured above: Karlsplatz with its famous Karlskirche. Entrance for students was only 4 euros, and that includes an elevator ride up to the dome and a view over the city (behind bars, unfotunately). Nonetheless, the outside is more spectacular than the inside, unless you are into baroque dome paintings and lots and lots of gold.

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Next up was Schönbrunn, one of the most famous palaces in Vienna. And you could tell by the number of people there, so touristy. I originally only intended to visit the gardens, but due to unfortunate stormy weather, they were closed. So I took the shorter tour of the inside rooms (there is a long one with 44 rooms, and a short one with around 20 rooms). And let’s be honest, if you’ve seen one of those castles, you’ve seen them all. I was truly impressed by the length of Princess Sissi’s hair though. I’m sure she could’ve donated her hair for about 20 wigs to ThinkPink.

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That same night, I went back to the castle because I’d let some weirdly dressed guy that kept calling me “milady”convince me to go to a classical concert there at the Orangerie. When you’re travelling solo and you don’t really have much to do in the evenings, your brain is bound to think YOLO and say yes to things you usually wouldn’t say yes to. So I went, and it was great! The concert consisted of two 40 minute parts, one with music from Mozart and one with music from Strauss, both accompanied by dance and opera singing. It’s strange how much classical music you recognise without even realising you know it! I thoroughly enjoyed watching some of the guests come to the concert in proper ball gowns and taking place front row while I was sitting there in my jeans at the back row, with the plebs. So, if you get the chance to see ANY concert in Vienna, it’s a must do.

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The next morning, I was meeting some friends that I’d met over the summer in Canada. They were kind enough to meet me in Café Central, one of the most famous coffee houses in Vienna, and if I may believe so, the most beautiful. It dates back to the fin-de-siècle coffee culture that was prominent in Vienna at that time. It was known to be the place for Austrian writers like Peter Altenberg and other famous visitors like Freud and Trotski. It’s a great place to go in the morning as there is still room to sit (not so much in the afternoons, I was told by my personal guides), the breakfast is great and it’s a perfect departure point to go visit other main attractions the rest of the day.

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One of my next visits was to the Hundertwasserhaus, a series of apartments that remind me a little bit of Gaudi, but are a work by the architect, you guessed it, Hundertwasser. They’re a bit out of the way, but I found them interesting enough to put in the effort. Also, it was a nice break from the rather busy and “touristy” areas of Vienna. One of my favourites parts of the trip.

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Next up, I went to Stephansplatz, a central part of the town, with lots of (souvenir) shops and people. The main attraction of the square is the Stephansdom, which you can enter for free. Although the interior, again, didn’t really speak to me, I find the roof kind of interesting and pretty. It reminds me of the Matthias church in Budapest. Being neighbours, I guess it’s logical that they would have some influence on one another. With the Christmas lights still up, Stephansplatz was a nice area to wander around though. Two places I recommend going are, firstly, the Haas&Haas Tea shop, only for the smell if not to buy something. The second place is a good one for dinner and another recommendation by my friends, who called it “very Austrian”. It’s a place called Jonathan&Sieglinde and all of their dishes are made with apples or potatoes. Sometimes both. The food I had there was divine.

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The next day was already my last day, and because it was so cold (-11°C, but with windchill about -20°C), I decided to spend it visiting a few museums. The first place I went to was not a museum, though, but a secret, hidden gem called the Ferstel Passage, right behind Café Central. It’s a gorgeous gallery that goes past a tiny square with a fountain (you’d think it’s outside, but there is a huge glass dome). It looked like something out of a movie.

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Onwards, I walked past the Hofburg and went to the National Library, a definite must-see for any book lover. I was suffering a serious case of library envy (yes, that is a thing and if it’s not, it should be). I tried to take some pictures but they don’t do the place justice.

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My next stop was the Museum Quartier, where I went to the Leopold Museum. If you like paintings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, this is the museum for you. Also, the building has some cool windows which offer good views of the city. (I seem to have developed a love for museum buildings rather than the artefacts themselves, is that strange?) Also the MQ shop has some really cute stuff, worth a visit.

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My last stop was the Secession, a very small museum, but with one of the most fun exhibitions by Francis Alÿs. His art pieces are tiny, tiny works of art on pieces of wood of about 10 by 15 cm. You get a magnifying glass to look at the art pieces. At first glance, each art piece represents a very mundane habit, but if you look closely, each piece is absurd. In between each piece there is text. The text doesn’t necessarily say anything about the picture, but nonetheless, the pieces and text are interactive. Loved it!

Back to Naschmarkt I went, to pack my bags to go home. If you’re in that neighbourhood, there is a good burrito bar called El Burro. Cheap, cozy and delicious.

Now, that’s that. Auf Wiedersehen!

Seattle

Up until a few days ago, Seattle to me was the city of Grey’s Anatomy, rain and ferries. It was all I knew about it, but I was keen to discover what else this place had to offer besides its iconic Space Needle. So here’s an overview of what I’ve been up to these past 4 days.

I arrived late Monday evening, after a 7 hour flight from Reykjavik, where I had my layover, after a 3 hour flight from Brussels. Relatively short compared to other flights I’ve taken to Asia or Australia. I sat in between two really nice blokes from the US on the way there. One was from California, was married to a Norwegian woman and was on his way back from travelling through Scandinavia. The other guy was a local Seattle guy working for Microsoft, excited to be reunited with his girlfriend after 30 days of travelling through Tanzania, Kroatia, Slovenia, The Netherlands and Iceland. He gave me some great tips of places to eat and sightsee in Seattle and told me a bit more about the city. Off to a good start.

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It’s a short and easy ride from the airport to the city and so without any trouble I arrived in my hostel about 7.30pm. Despite being really tired, I didn’t get much sleep on the first night. Jetlag, I guess.

The next day, I was up by 5am, but lay in bed until 7 before heading out to the Space Needle. I thought I’d start by going to see the touristic highlights first before deciding what else I wanted to do. But first I want to mention something else, a part of travelling that not a lot of people talk about. I’m sure it seems that I was having a great time by the looks of my Instagram feed or Facebook, but somehow the first day I was overcome by anxiety and homesickness. I wanted to go home. Why? I don’t know. It’s never happened before, but I guess it’s part of travelling too. I just let it happen and let it pass. But anyways, I went to the Space Needle and it seemed I was the first one there. It was a cloudy and cold morning, a typical occurrence in Seattle, I’ve learned (the hard way, by slowly turning into an ice cube myself every morning). The view was good, but as far as loving city life, I’d have to say it’s not my cup of tea. Gimme flowers, the green, the water. Turns out I need my daily portion of grass (That doesn’t make me a cow, now, does it?). So, the view was good, but I’m not much for the concrete, urban jungle.

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After visiting Seattle’s iconic landmark, I went next door to the EMP Museum. Basically, it’s a museum that exhibits pop culture, ranging from music to science fiction, horror and fantasy. I especially enjoyed the great music hall they had so I sat there for half an hour watching music videos. Seriously, I’ve never seen a screen that big!

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That same day, I went to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition. Although I originally had booked a 3pm ticket, the lady at the front desk was nice enough to let me go in sooner, so I didn’t have to sit around and wait. I don’t know if it was the beautiful glass works or finally seeing some flowers and green stuff (plants! grass! trees!) that made my mood that much better, no more homesickness, yay! Or maybe I’m just really influenced by the weather, because the sun had come out too.

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I decided I had more than enough spare time to take the Monorail into the city centre to do some Sephora make up shopping. Just a tiny bit of heaven for any make up lover. All the brand that we don’t get in Belgium, amazing! Needless to say a bit of damage was done. At least I’ll look good when I’m broke.

After that I went back to my hostel, the City Hostel Seattle, which I would recommend. I stayed in a four bedroom all female dorm with a bathroom attached (what a luxury, really, it’s so convenient not having to drag all your clothes and toiletries down the hall and having to go back half-naked when you realise you forgot your shampoo (yes, that’s happened to me)). The staff was very friendly and helpful, breakfast was good (toast, fruit, cereal, free coffee and tea) and linens (except for towels) were included. Plus it is located walking distance from pretty much all the sights.

I decided that the day shouldn’t be over yet, so I grabbed my book and walked towards the Waterfront, where I took a stroll on the boardwalk, before basking in the sun whilst reading my book. The water always has a calming effect on me for some reason. Perhaps I was a mermaid once, who knows. In any case, I enjoyed some people-watching, some reading, some walking, before heading back to my hostel, where I met a girl from LA, Tanya.

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She and I  started chatting and when I suggested to have dinner together, we ended up planning an entire night. We had dinner downtown, took an Uber (Thank you, Tanya, for introducing me to the wonderful world of Uber) to the Columbia Centre (Thanks, Heleen, for the recommendation!). One of the highlights of my stay in Seattle to say the least. We made it well in time before sunset and with a 360° view over the city, the water and mountains (you can see mount Rainier from up there) from the 73rd floor, we had quite the spectacular evening in store for us.

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Taking advantage of having a like-minded friend, Tanya and I decided to take an Uber to Fremont the next morning. It’s supposed to be this more artsy, relaxed and alternative area North of Seattle. We went to Gas Works Park, where I turned into an ice cube again, walked up underneath the bridge to see the Fremont troll (it’s pretty cool, I like it a lot), before realising that that was pretty much it and heading back to our hostel. I took some time to edit my photos, have a little nap before saying goodbye to Tanya, who was headed back to LA.

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I took another stroll down to the water because I liked it so much the day before and this time I bought myself a ticket for the Seattle Great Wheel. I got one of the booths all to myself and the staff was kind of making fun of me for going on the wheel all by myself, but I couldn’t have cared less. YOLO. If I wanna go on the ferris wheel, I’ll go on the ferris wheel.

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The third full day, also my last day, I went to one of the other must-sees of Seattle, Pike Place Market. It sounded very touristy, so I wasn’t too keen, but I actually really enjoyed it. It was busy, but I enjoyed seeing the crowds, smelling the different foods and I loved how colourful the market is. If you’re into trying new foods, or want to get some cool souvenirs, this is the place to be. I spent a good amount of time in Starbucks (not the first and therefore oldest one,that one was way too crowded) sipping a mango carrot smoothie before heading to the Seattle Art Museum, which was big, but didn’t have any art that really sparked my interest.

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Finally, I went to see the Gum Wall, which is located in a tiny alley near the market. It’s both gross as well as intriguing. It’s so disgusting you can’t look away and you decide to take  a selfie instead of questioning this “art form”.

 

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And that’s pretty much what I did with my time. I spent the final afternoon relaxing in my room, talking to my new roomies, who joined me for dinner too (from Korea and Germany), and packing. I also found out my final exam results ever! I passed everything, so that calls for a celebration when I get to Vancouver (I’m on the train writing this). I’m happy.

Happy travelling!

Until the next stop :-)

10 Things To See & Do in Copenhagen

Although I’m sure that some of these are tourist traps, and I have long from seen everything there is to see in Copenhagen, I thought I’d put in my two cents and tell you about the top 10 things I enjoyed most in the Danish capital. I hope it inspires you to go and visit. 

  1. Nyhavn

    Nyhavn, or translated into English “The New Harbour”, is probably the most well-known highlight of Copenhagen and even though it can get busy, it does not disappoint. On sunny days, the colours of the houses are exquisite, in gloomy weather they can brighten up your day. It’s so nice to sit by the water and have a glass of wine or ice cream or maybe even a Danish hot dog.

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  2. Visit the Carlsberg brewery

    Carlsberg is a famous beer brand in Scandinavia and the old brewery, which is located in the city, is now partly a museum. You can find out more about the beer brewing process, the history of the brand, and on top of that you can enjoy a couple of beers and Danish food in their beer garden. Especially lovely on a sunny day.

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  3. The Church Of Our Saviour

    This church has a splendid view over the city and its colourful and warm houses. It’s one of the cheaper views too. There is a spiral staircase that goes all the way to the very top of the church. Just make sure that the weather conditions allow entrance (when it’s snowing or really rainy, they won’t open)

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  4. Enjoy the Danish pastries

    No words needed, I’ll let the picture do the talking.

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  5. Feel royal at Rosenberg Castle

    It doesn’t cost you anything to roam the park and see the castle from the outside, which I think is the best view anyways.

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  6. Enjoy the green at Botanisk Have

    This botanical garden is part of the University of Copenhagen. It has some beautiful greenhouses and it is HUGE. Even in winter it’s worth a visit.

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  7. Release your inner child at Tivoli
    I’m not much one for theme parks, but I feel Tivoli is entirely unique in its category. For every occasion, they dress up the park and it feels like an entirely different world. It’s like a light festival, a cute market, fun rides, great food and old-fashioned stalls combined and although that sounds kind of crazy, it somehow works.

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  8. Enjoy the space at Amalienborg palace

    Amalienborg palace is the official palace of the Danish king and queen and it is here that the changing of the guards takes place. I loved roaming the spacious square (which is actually a circle), plus it offers a great view on Frederiks Kirke.

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  9. Invest in some Scandinavian design

    If there’s one thing Copenhagen has enough of, it’s furniture and design shops. Personally, I’m a fan, so I could totally see my future house decorated in, well, basically everything that was sold there.

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  10. Walk (or bike!) around and enjoy the beautiful streets

    And if you’re lucky you might come across a Christmas Market. Or two. Or three. Well, Copenhagen is beautiful in every lights. Sunny or gloomy. Winter or summer. Day or night.

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#149 on the Bucket List AKA Have a Lazy Day at the Whitsundays

Ever since my exchange year in Australia back in 2011, the Whitsunday Islands had been at the top of my to visit-list. It just looked like such a dreamy destination. So, when I went back to Oz in 2013, I decided it was time to finally visit. Off I went, on my own, to spend five days at Airlie Beach, visiting two of the Islands while I was there: Whitsunday Island and Hamilton Island. Both very different but very similar in that they were simply stunning. I was stunned. I have never seen an island more breathtaking. Needless to say, I’m already planning a second trip (in my mind, unfortunately). I didn’t do very much: I walked around, took it all in, looked at the setting sun, felt the cool sand between my toes, talked to some cockatoos friends and returned home, knowing I would be back someday. And if you’re not convinced to go yet, here are some of the pictures I took.

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Kilts, Whisky and Bagpipes – A Day in the Scottish Highlands

As part of my trip to Edinburgh, I decided I wanted to explore a little bit more than just the city surroundings. I found a tour that would take me to the Scottish Highlands, all the way from Edinburgh to Glencoe to Loch Ness and back again, in just a day. It’d be a long day (the tour started at 8 am and didn’t return to the city until 8.30 pm), but worth it. The organisation I went with, is called Timberbush tours. They offer day trips, but also longer ones. I would heartily recommend this tour operator to anyone wanting to do something similar. It was on time, and even with the (unpredicted) snow the tour still went ahead, it was comfortable, there were lots of other solo travellers and the bus driver provides you with lots of actually interesting information. Our driver was also hilarious, by the way. And his Scottish accent made it all even better.

But here goes, an overview of a wonderful day, in a magical place. I will let the pictures do most of the talking.

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Our first stop was somewhere on the way, for a quick breakfast stop. Everything just looked so beautiful because of the snow. I considered myself very lucky to be able to see the Highlands in these circumstances. After that, we continued our drive toward and eventually through Glencoe. This was my favourite part of the day. No picture can invoke that same feeling of being so small in comparison to the amazing nature that surrounds you.

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We stopped at the side of the road to get a better look at what is called the Three Sisters (three peaks), which you can see on the picture below. It was freezing cold, it was snowing, it was kind of amazing.

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Scotland really is the place of sudden weather changes. One moment it can be bright and sunny, 2 minutes later it can be snowy and gloomy and another 2 minutes later it can be rainy and dark. If the Scottish call rain ‘liquid sunshine’, well, then there was plenty of that.  But while it can be kind of annoying (scarf on, scarf off, hood on, hood off, gloves on, gloves off), it is also something I loved about Scotland; the sky has a 1000 different colours, the light is ever-changing.

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After our lunch break, where I had whisky and haggis (quite an event on its own), we continued onwards to Loch Ness, which was disappointing. It’s a lake like any other. Good thing the exhibition was at least moderately interesting and gave us some more information. We made an additional stop at one of the (many, many) castle ruins. If there’s one way I would describe the highlands, including its lakes, is that it is a mystical place, that asks more questions than it gives answers. And I like that.

Now, off you go, discover. And let me know all about it, of course.

Until then,

Love,

Silke